Long or short – which is better for writing blog posts? [Infographic]
One of the main questions I get asked about writing blog posts is how long they should be. This usually comes from people who are apprehensive about blogging, especially those who aren’t natural writers or view blogging as a task that needs to be accomplished but doesn’t fill them with verve and gusto.
In the past it was fine to set their minds at rest by saying “anything between 250 to 500 words”, and once they’d realised that this wasn’t a lot, the wave of relief was often visible in their faces. This was a good benchmark to offer them, as my SEO plugin sets the minimum at 300 words, and it results in a reasonable amount that doesn’t look too much on the page.
But for those hardened blog writers who want to make a difference when writing blog posts, things have become a little more difficult. OK there is still the never-ending story about how to write successful headlines, and how many keywords should be used and where, but now the story has developed into how many words should be written to get the best impact from the search engines.
And of course I’ve provided you with some code you could paste into your own posts if you want to share this infographic with your readers. Remember to put it into the Text mode of your Edit Post page.
You may think this infographic appears to be a little weighted towards the longer post, and that is because of the information I gleaned while doing my research. Interestingly I asked the question “which is better – short or long?” on social media, and the response I got back was invariably for short posts. This is not surprising, as most bloggers would prefer to write small amounts because they think their readers prefer this, so I made sure this fact was reflected in the column called ‘short’ above.
Now this would be absolutely fine if you were writing blog posts purely for entertainment and to keep your readers happy. This is, of course, a very good reason, as without readers a blog fails in its raison d’être, or reason to be. Last year I wrote a 365 blog (aka a blogathon posting every day for a year) that contained posts that had pictures with only three descriptive sentences. This was principally because it was quick and easy, especially when I needed to slot it in between my other work load.
Does size really matter?
Now I’m not going to get all technical, that that’s not how the Fairy Blog Mother works, but it may be necessary to keep abreast of the search engines’ ever-changing whims and updating algorithms, and it looks like, at the moment, that long posts are preferred.
And not just long posts, but really long posts – anything up to 2,500 words. If this fills you with horror and dread, then you have every right to be so. It’s almost the same as a thesis; it’s basically white paper proportions. And another question arises, who can spare the time to sit and read such a tome? Aren’t we all conditioned to short sharp shock tactics (Twitter and all that)? And where are the authors who have the time for writing blog posts of this length, let alone the inclination? It’s not easy, as I tried the other day (OK, it was all at once, grant you, so it was a bit of a marathon), but it’s not only the time factor, but also thinking of enough things to say!
Another recommendation that has been banded about was a minimum of 1,500 words, which is a little bit more manageable, but still a heck of a lot! Having thought about this, I suppose the idea is to give the search engines spiders enough content to chew on, not only for the main focus keyword that is supposed to trigger the initial SEO response, but also the chance for any secondary keywords (or keyphrases) to get noticed and indexed, especially specific long-tailed keywords that may resonate with current trends, news updates and search requests.
For those who don’t know what long-tail keywords are, these have arisen with how search patterns have changed. People don’t enter single or disjointed words into the search field any more, but full sentences and questions. Therefore long-tail keywords are the sort of search requests bloggers imagine (or research into) what their readers would ask. The Hummingbird algorithm matches these requests with similar statements found in blog posts and other web content. Using long-tail keywords may result in more focused responses, but they are more difficult to weave effectively into copy when writing blog posts in order to make them appear more credible.
What determines a post’s length?
Whether to write a short or long post will depend on various factors which need to be taken into consideration when writing blog posts. It shouldn’t be based on time, subject matter, available resources or merely writing ability. You don’t want to scupper any opportunity your blog post may generate just because you couldn’t be bothered to spend enough time on it. And this also resonates with the fact that you shouldn’t just publish a post just because you feel you ought to; short or long should be a conscious decision.
There are occasions when a short post is the best option. Is the post supporting other media, such as a video, or material, such as an infographic? It may be a good idea to pad out the post a little bit more for SEO reasons (getting enough keywords into the accompanying prose, usually about 1% is adequate, to keep the search engines happy). But since the main message is already provided in the other format, which adds variety as well as an alternative method of delivery, there is no reason to repeat or reiterate any more than is necessary.
The other side of the fence is when the post explaining a concept, expressing a point of view, submitting a review or representing a how-to explanation. Now here is an opportunity to go to town in order to create a lot of content when writing blog posts, especially if it is punctuated with examples, bullet points, quotations, screen-shots, data charts and more. Providing this additional material will, of course, require a specific and sufficient explanation to justify its presence, plus the necessary clarification of the information it portrays. All this will result in more words, and will certainly make a difference in maintaining the reader’s attention and interest, let alone their comprehension. Oh, and remember to complete the alt-tags behind images and other media if you want to create a more effective SEO response.
It’s what you do with it that counts
If you do decide to ‘go long’ when writing blog posts, don’t forget the importance of capturing the reader’s interest. This means it needs to be visually attractive as well as intellectually stimulating, as most blog visitors tend to skim through a post before deciding whether it is worth reading or not. Readers notice first the headline, pictures with their captions (if any), subheadings and the first sentence (which determines the style and confirms the subject matter). Not only do these need to grab the attention of the post’s audience, but also the search engine spiders as they themselves scan this exciting new content, so strategically inserted relevant keywords are paramount here.
Another method of attractiveness is the fast-paced narrative. A conversational style will keep the reader engaged, especially if it appears you are talking specifically to them. Here it’s easy to accumulate more words, just as what would naturally happen within an animated telephone call. Imagine transcribing a conversation going on in your head with your reader (albeit a bit one-sided), transferred through the keyboard onto your blog. This means you should consider ditching any English grammar restrictions you may have learned at school when writing blog posts, and feel free to add in expressions and additional comments which would help the narrative to flow.
Natural speech patterns don’t follow formal writing methods, which can be seen as boring and uninteresting, and these certainly won’t enable the reader’s attention to progress easily towards the end of the post. This is what you should be aiming for. Shorten your sentences and add superfluous spoken language to lighten the load, which may be the difference to having all of your post read or not. Changing punctuation is key; for example, sometimes commas may not adequately represent sufficient breathing spaces, so a more liberal use of full stops (translated as ‘periods’ for our American friends) may be the answer. Check out the more popular American blogs to get an idea of what I mean (especially as there aren’t enough examples in my writing!).
Don’t get carried away
If you decide on ‘long’ when writing blog posts, resist the natural tendency for verbal diarrhoea just to fill up the space. Just writing something for the sake of it, or ‘fluff’ as I have seen it described, will not do your reputation as a blogger any good, let alone maintain your readers’ interest. If there isn’t enough to say, or you’ve run out of ideas, just accept the post will remain a short one, and make sure it is of the best quality possible.
In fact quality, and also providing excellent value, is important. Add as much value as you can to make your posts worthwhile reading, and this will ultimately result in good responses from your readers and will encourage social sharing from others. Value equals interest, so when writing blog posts make sure they resonate with your audience by understanding their needs, and pack them to the gills with information that will benefit them or make their lives better.
Clever and consistent editing is vital for when writing blog posts. Successful posts will have been carefully constructed with appropriate facts, and anything that isn’t interesting or fails to reach the mark should be removed. Clutter through repetition, unnecessary details, irrelevant material and unsuitable language should not be tolerated. Write succinct posts that focus on a single point or subject, as these will not confuse your readers and make it easier for them to read and absorb the overall message.
In the old days, if the writer had a lot to say, one idea was that long posts should be broken up and presented as a part-series. This certainly had the advantage that it encouraged readers to return to the blog to read the next instalment, but nowadays many readers don’t want to wait for Part II, which they might miss or forget to read (especially with the demise of RSS readers). The idea of a super-long post to cover all scenarios in one go became more appealing to the impatient reader.
Remember why you’re writing blog posts
When writing blog posts it’s important to set an objective. What is the purpose for this post? Who are you trying to attract? It is for your readers or the search engines – or both? Are the statistics it generates important, and which ones should you look out for?
Taking the time to write a long, extensive and well produced post will enable you as the author to thoroughly express your views, and get your meaning across. Sometimes, when writing blog posts, certain subjects have to be delivered in more than one way for all of the audience to understand or appreciate them. A well presented argument could swing your readership towards your way of thinking, especially when it comes to convincing them you’re the person they should be paying more attention to.
A longer post will allow you to spend more time in building up the relationship you may want with your readers. Writing blog posts are a method of showcasing who you are and what you’re representing (your business), and additional length may allow this to be done more adequately. Although short posts may be effective for some people, especially if they are consistently frequent and contain excellent value, not everybody has the wherewithal and resources to accomplish this on a regular basis.
I never said it was easy
The more trouble you take in writing blog posts, generally the better the results. But there are obstacles: I’ve found that fitting in enough of this post’s main keyphrase within this content, in order to maintain a suitable saturation point that will satisfy my blog’s SEO plugin, became more difficult the more I wrote. But the idea is that at least the remainder of the post stands a better chance of being picked up by the search engines, and some of it should resonate with a search criteria somewhere, as long as the content continues to be highly relevant.
In fact there’s no reason why you can’t ask for help from your readership when writing blog posts. Encourage them to read the post thoroughly and leave a comment. By ‘continuing the conversation’, this not only increases the interest factor of the post to the audience, but also provides extra content that the search engines can pick up and index accordingly. Interaction, such as a two-way conversation that is repeated over a period of time, suddenly makes a post much more attractive. Take advantage of this ability to give and receive feedback in real time and in a variety of platforms within social media (it doesn’t have to be only on your blog) to increase the visibility factor of your posts.
Now it’s your turn
So which do you prefer – long or short – when reading or writing blog posts? Have I managed to convince you about the properties of a longer post? Or are you still finding a shorter post easier to cope with? If you are reading this, you have either stayed the course to get to the end of this post (both well done and thank you!) or you are a spoiler that likes to jump to the end to read how it finishes (I’m a bit like that with books).
Let me know what you think and your preferences: whether the search engines have got it right or they’re just being too demanding, or whether it’s important to use all the available space to explain something properly when writing blog posts, or will thrusting a quick post between the reader’s eyes be enough to get the message across in an ever-increasingly busy world?
Oh, and the length of this post? I think I’m pretty close to 2,500 words. Let me know what you think of that too, and I’ll keep a close eye on my statistics as well to see if this does make a difference to writing blog posts.